The Good Place – A ‘fundamentally flawed’ system

If you’ve been keeping your eye on The Good Place, a TV series on NBC, then you’d know that the final season, Season 4 is about to come to an end. The show explores many philosophical topics, but I want to talk about their exploration of how a person is qualified ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

A quick background if you’re new to the comedy, no spoilers here – Eleanor Shellstrop wakes up to find herself in ‘The Good Place’, the show’s interpretation of heaven. She recalls her past self on earth and realises that she was not a good person – in fact, she calls herself ‘Arizona trashbag’. So she knows that they’ve made a mistake in placing her in The Good Place. Things start to fall apart (literally) when she acts badly. Pretty soon, Eleanor comes to the decision that she has to learn how to be good to earn a place in The Good Place.

According to the show, how people are judged throughout their lives on earth is through a point system – whenever they do something good, some points are added, and whenever they do something bad, points are deducted. The highest scorers make it into The Good Place.

In the later seasons, [MINOR SPOILER] one of the characters come to the conclusion that this system of determining who makes it into The Good Place is ‘fundamentally flawed’.

And I full-heartedly agree.

The reason is simple – no one can ever save themselves through their own works. As the TV show has demonstrated, the standards are too high. But let’s take a step away from its fictional world and into the real one – the one lovingly created by God, who intends for us (created by Him as well) to have a relationship with God and live under His rule.

Yet we have ignored God and desired to be our own ruler. Such a desire to be God is the root of sin. And since we’re sinners, we have fallen short of God’s perfect standard, and cannot redeem ourselves by our own efforts. And, because God is just, He cannot let our transgressions against Him go unpunished – we will suffer His wrath and eternal death – an eternal separation from God. Since God is the source of all life and light, then an eternal separation would mean eternal death and darkness. And not just that; God’s wrath would be upon us, and that is far worse than anything. Imagine experiencing the rightful wrath of the Creator of our universe.

So, while we still have time (who knows) on earth, how might we achieve God’s perfect standard and also right our ruined relationship with God?

Can it be achieved by doing good works, hoping that they will cancel out the bad, like the point system in The Good Place? The answer – nope.

Ephesians 2:1-5 tells us:

‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…’

If we were dead in our trespasses and sins, how could we help ourselves if we were dead? Paul (the author of the letter to the Ephesians) says that we once followed ‘the course of this world’, and ‘were by nature children of wrath’. If our very nature were of wrath, then every ‘good work’ we do would be in vain.

Then the only way to be reconciled with God and be made pure, is for someone perfect and pure to sacrificially take our place and suffer God’s punishment meant for sinners – which refers to all of us.

And that someone is Jesus Christ.

Jesus, fully man and fully God, lived perfectly under God’s rule on earth. In 33AD, he walked willingly to the cross that he may take our sins upon his shoulders and die for us. He took the wrath of God meant as punishment for us upon himself.

But Jesus did not stay dead. No, that would be futile, because since our sinful selves were crucified along with Jesus, we would have remained dead with Him. But that is not the case. God raised Jesus from the dead, so that those found in Him (that is, those who believe in Jesus) would be raised along with Him.

So, taking a closer look at Ephesians 2:4-5:

‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…’

It means that we are saved from eternal death and God’s wrath only through God’s grace, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

When Jesus willingly took our punishment, he became sin personified. He faced the ultimate rejection from God for us, so that even God the Father turned His face away from His son, causing Jesus to cry out on the cross, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ in Mark 15:34, which in Aramaic means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

This is so that we may never have to utter these devastating words, for by Jesus’ death and resurrection, He has ensured that those found in Him will never be forsaken, and will have an eternity of being united with Christ completely to look forward to.

Let’s look further on in Ephesians 2:8-9:

‘For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.’

This means that we did absolutely nothing to deserve such a gift of grace from God. Even our faith in Him is not a contribution to our salvation, but rather a response to His salvation. And so should our good works be as well.

This is stated in Ephesians 2:10:

‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’

It means that no one may boast in their own works for it achieves nothing. Instead, we, as God’s creation, His workmanship, have been created for the purpose of doing His good works, which God has set out before us. These good works are our response to God’s gift – salvation through Jesus Christ.

So, if you’re still with me, it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we can be saved – forgiven of our sins and made right with God. It is not by our works that we may save ourselves and be ‘good enough’, because not even a ‘good enough’ person is able to right the wrong he has committed against God, for all have fallen short of God’s perfect standard. And God cannot lower his perfect standards for us either, because that would make Him imperfect, and He would not be God. But He knows that we cannot meet His holy standards, and so has sent His son Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and right our relationship with Him.

The Good Place is an example of how everyone recognises that no one is perfect, and all have fallen short of being completely sinless. Fortunately, the one and only answer to life is simple – Jesus Christ. It is only through him that we have been saved and can be united with God.

This is the most important truth to me – if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me, or drop a comment below for discussion! 🙂

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